Vincent Johnson: Descent into Cleveland (Ohio) (photographs 12.31.10)

Abandoned house near Kinsman boulevard, Cleveland, Ohio (2010)

The temperature in Cleveland, Ohio was a surprising 59 degrees on the last day of 2010.  After attending to family matters I had a small amount of time to drive through the city to visit many of the neighborhoods I had lived in as a child and teenager.

I was glad to see how much civic pride remained in Cleveland, despite it taking tremendous hits to its economy and housing infrastructure, there seems to be something of a rebirth – certainly a mushrooming of new homes being built within the city’s limits for the first time in a century or more. So these photographs I have taken are for me as much about what was as what had become of Old Cleveland, which has survived the 1960’s riots, the shutting down of the auto, steel and manufacturing sectors. Suburban Cleveland and Downtown Cleveland are thriving, with the stadiums and Entertainment corridor along East 4th street. Many young professionals from the East Coast have moved into downtown Cleveland for its cluster of amenities and urban life – one that never existed when Cleveland was a hard-core working class town. My pictures document the remains of a working class Cleveland that was for a moment engaged in transitioning into the middle-class during the 1960’s.

Cleveland’s East Side is on its back with what I saw from driving along St. Clair avenue, Superior Avenue, Carnegie and Euclid Avenues, and along several crosstown  streets such as Lakeview road. The truest exception is the unreal growth of the Cleveland Clinic across what seemed like four avenues and dozens of city blocks. I was really happy to see that the first major league baseball stadium in Cleveland, from 1891, is going to be partially restored. I read on the Ohio historical plaque that Babe Ruth hit his 500th home run there, and Cy Young pitched there like a hundred years ago or more – amazing.

More than ever I could see the disparate old Cleveland’s – the factory town, the old downtown hub, the suburban ring, and the return to nature of part of Cleveland, which seemed to be a factory set into a farmer’s field at certain locations.

Pretty awesome to see history move as it has. Cleveland was Manchester and Birmingham, England while New York was London. Cleveland is no longer a workhouse, but the buildings stand and fall, the old houses rot away from 120 winters.

Part 2: Just read that 40 of the 139 square miles of Detroit have been returned to nature.

Detroit, which I read tonight also has no supermarkets. This is the case in much of Cleveland also. I remember reading that at least a decade ago, West Philly had no supermarkets, and what returned were the old 19th century horse and wagon food sellers, in the form of modern day trucks selling goods from the back. They even had a truck selling fish.

While I was in Cleveland I talked to several people at great length about the city transforming, almost dying, and now building new houses inside of the city for the first time in over a century. The people are deeply attached to the land. A world of factories was planted in Northeast Ohio over a hundred years ago, when it was mostly farmland and small towns. The people know they are the forgotten ones, but they cling to family and to hope that somehow by their staying, urban farming, and tearing down the century old homes that have rotted, they will themselves be reborn.

Going to Cleveland was like going to another world. It was about visiting my childhood, and seeing the world I left, even though most of my family is still there even today.

part 3: Just found out that the creators of Superman were born in Cleveland, and lived in the Glenville area.

Ceremony in Cleveland, Ohio for the restoration of the house in which Cleveland teenager Jerry Siegel, who along with his pal , created the Superman comics character.

Restored Jerry Siegel House, writer/creator of Superman comic, Glenville area, Cleveland

The house is located at 10622 Kimberley avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44108

Abandoned house near Kinsman boulevard, Cleveland, Ohio (2010)

This collection of photographs was taken in the 105th street and Kinsman boulevard area of Cleveland. Within a block of these destroyed properties are a number of equally substantial yet perfectly maintained homes that were built as long ago as the late 19th century, yet have remained intact and inhabited, in an environment that was at once suburban on one block, and urban hardcore street life on the next.

Rotted balcony of abandoned home on Kinsman boulevard, Cleveland, Ohio (2010)

The one remarkable thing I remember about Kinsman is a Cleveland music group named Kinsman Dazz, who later became The Dazz Band. Like their Cleveland counterparts, The Ohio Players, these two Cleveland born bands were superstars in the music scene in the 1970’s. They proved that there was as much musical talent in Cleveland as in other Midwest and East Coast cities of that era.

Destroyed mobile home trailer, parked in closed Cleveland, Ohio work corridor, Kinsman boulevard (2010)

Front view of destroyed mobile home trailer, Cleveland, Ohio closed work corridor, Kinsman boulevard (2010)

Kinsman boulevard tenement apartment block, Cleveland, Ohio (2010)

Retired factory building, Cleveland, Ohio work corridor, Kinsman boulevard (2010)

Closed factory building with variety of exhaust heads, Cleveland's East Side (2010)

Cleveland rooming house, in the architectural style similar structures in Savannah, Georgia (Hough area, Cleveland, Ohio) (2010)

Cleveland, Ohio destroyed rowhouse, (Cleveland's East Side, Hough area) (2010)

Boarded up Prarie style house, Cleveland, Ohio (Hough area) 2010

Cleveland tenement block, (Glenville area, Lakeview road) (2010)

Abandoned church, Hough area, Cleveland, Ohio (2010)

Cleveland "two-flat" East Side, boarded up structure (2010)

Closed factory roofstack, Eastside of Cleveland, Ohio (2010)


Vincent Johnson is an artist and writer in Los Angeles

Biography January 2011

Vincent Johnson lives and works in Los Angeles. His work has been exhibited at Las Cienegas Projects, LAXART, Las Cienegas Projects, Los Angeles, the Kellogg Museum at Cal Poly Pomona, the P.S. 1. Museum, the SK Stiftung, Cologne, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Adamski Gallery of Contemporary Art, Aachen, the Sacramento Center for Contemporary Art, 18th Street Arts, Santa Monica, Another Year in LA gallery at the Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles and the Boston University Art Gallery. His photographic works engage both significant and neglected historical and contemporary cultural artifacts and is based on intensive research of his subjects. Upcoming is a group show at the Kellogg Museum of Cal Poly Pomona, a one person show in Copenhagen, a one person show at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a one person show at Las Cienegas Projects, Los Angeles.
Johnson received his MFA from Art Center College of Design in 1997. He studied with Mike Kelly, Jack Goldstein, Stephen Prina, Liz Larner, Chris Williams, Mayo Thompson (formerly of Art&Language), and Liz Larner. He is a 2005 Creative Capital Grantee, and was nominated for the Baum: An Emerging American Photographer’s Award in 2004 and for the New Museum of Contemporary Arts Aldrich Art Award in 2007 and for the Art Matters grant in 2008, and in 2009 nominated for Foundation for Contemporary Art Fellowship, Los Angeles. In 201o he was named a United States Artists project artist. His work has been reviewed in ArtForum, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, and many other publications. Upcoming is a one person show in Copenhagen, a one person show at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a one person show at Las Cienegas Projects, Los Angeles.

Vincent  Johnson

Artist Statement
Vincent Johnson’s work is a form of sustained cultural mining that explores the depths of his subjects. His photographic works created from 2001-2007 delved into architecture as fantasy, from the vernacular architecture of Los Angeles to that found throughout the American West. He has documented several of the no longer extant commercial vernacular structures in both South Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley that came into existence during the birth of long distance family travel by car. In 2007 he presented a fully fabricated work of sculpture – a 12 foot long six-foot high replica of a 1956 Chrysler Air Raid Siren. This project developed as he was both researching and documenting a former military corridor in the San Fernando Valley that included a retired military airfield. His newest photographic works, all created in 2008 and 2009, are large-scale photographic montages, each of  which confront significant cultural figures and several dramatic signal events of Cold War era Western cultural history, including Television, the launch of Sputnik, the Soviet Space program, American home-based bomb shelter  program, and Vietnam. He is working on large-scale photomontages of the several major American political figures of 1960’s, including Martin Luther King, the Kennedy family, and Malcolm X, as well the representations of both Communism and Capitalism, Hollywood and Los Angeles and many related Cold War era subjects. Johnson’s photomontages can take several months to create as he captures hundreds of images from online sources, before selecting those which most well index a particular historical moment, personage or event. The creative juxtapositions and scale shifts of the found images is what he most relies on to develop his potent and illuminating photographic works.

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